When I was a baby, my grandma’s hands were already full looking after my cousins, so I used to spend my days at Aunty Connie’s while my parents were at work.
Her sons Frankie and Godwin were already in their late teens, so having me to look after was a joy that she welcomed with open arms.
To me, as a child, Aunty Connie and Uncle Tony’s home was a house of wonders. Each and every corner of their Sliema residence was filled with trinkets, souvenirs, memorabilia and collectables gathered over the years.
The delicious smell of imqarrun hit you from the kitchen as soon as you walked through the door. I fondly remember her feeding the birds in the courtyard before worrying about the fact that she was running out of place where to hang her latest acquisition on the walls.
Connie Schembri wasn’t my aunty, we had no blood relation. She was a dedicated seamstress with an eye for detail who was renowned for making the impossible possible.
Aunty Connie dressed all of Malta’s theatre giants and that’s how she and my mother became great friends. Her delicate hands sewed some of our lives’ most iconic garments. including my mother’s wedding and bridesmaid dresses as well as all my childhood carnival costumes (a different one for every day of carnival).
The woman with the inch tape around her neck
I have no recollection of her without an inch tape around her neck. My mother remembers how she used to drop me off at hers in one dress and pick me up in another.
Sewing was her passion and she put so much love in each and every stitch. She was always a team player who would always go the extra mile and spend nights awake sewing away to make sure everything was perfect.
Her funeral service was held without a coffin or body there. Her husband wasn’t there either, he has tested positive too
Her creativity was inspiring and she never took any shortcuts: with inside pockets faultlessly lined, her costumes were atelier standard. Theatre can be a stressful environment and she never as much as complained, grumbled or made a fuss.
My love for theatre was honed as a child and Aunty Connie played a big role in that. She used to look after me even when she herself was working on a production. I vividly remember her holding my hand as we stood in the wings of the Manoel Theatre watching as the curtain went up on one of my mother’s shows.
Then, she used to tell me to wait in the corner while she attended a quick change before she’d call me back to continue to watch the show with her and take in all the wonder happening right in front of us.
She was kind, gentle, generous and patient.
Absent from her own funeral
Connie was also Malta’s 34th victim of COVID-19. She tested positive after her death on September 28.
She was hastily buried shortly after and on October 1 her funeral service was held without a coffin or body there. She was not even present at her own funeral, neither was her husband as he has tested positive too. Both were residents at the St Joseph residence.
It seems like we are all able to sleep soundly as long as the victims are the elderly with underlying conditions. The ‘elderly with underlying conditions’ combination is being used as a dehumanising caveat to downplay a global fiasco.
Elderly deaths are not acceptable losses, human lives do not become less valuable because they age. Connie Schembri and all the other COVID-19 victims deserve so much better than this.
Fly high Aunty Connie.
The world will miss your warm smile, kind eyes, open heart and gentle spirit. I will dedicate my first edition as artistic director of Żigużajg International Arts Festival for Children & Young People in your memory.
Thank you for being such an important part of our lives, the honour was ours. Forever missed by her husband Tony, sons Godwin and Frankie and their spouses and children.
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